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$259M Measure T bond seeks to solve short-term school needs

MV Whisman wants funds for teacher housing, extra classroom space, security measures

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Voters in the Mountain View Whisman School District are being asked to pass a new bond measure that would tackle the short-term problems facing local schools today. It stops short, however, of tackling some of the more ominous troubles looming on the horizon.

The Measure T bond on the March 3 ballot would tax property owners to raise $259 million in funding for a whole host of practical problems that district officials say need to be fixed now. Some schools are short on space for incoming students, while almost all of the campuses have security flaws.

Past projects have piled up debt that's pulling cash out of the general fund, and the district's bid to lease a 144-unit apartment building for teacher and staff housing in Mountain View needs a source of funding in order to move forward.

The Measure T bond seeks to address all of these needs, and proponents say it's sorely needed in order to handle short-term growth and finish up many of the priorities that did not get touched during the last bond program -- the funds from which officially dried up in August last year.

What proponents readily admit, however, is that this bond does not try to take on the monumental task of preparing for all of the long-term student growth expected to come from Mountain View's ambitious housing growth plans. Between new zoning and housing projects already in the pipeline, Mountain View's population is slated to grow by 75% in the coming decades, ushering in the city's most rapid residential expansion since the 1960s.

With those new homes come thousands of children who will need access to public schools that are, for the most part, already packed. Estimates show local school districts will need as much as $1.22 billion to buy land and build facilities to support them all. School funding for growth of that magnitude is expected to come from developers and a mix of other financial strategies, but it won't be coming from Measure T.

The bond measure requires 55% of the vote to pass, and would cost district property owners $30 per $100,000 of assessed value each year.

Concrete plans, lessons learned

District officials sought to come up with a specific plan for how to spend Measure T money prior to the election. Unlike the 2012 bond, Measure G, trustees hammered out and approved a list of priority projects that allocates nearly all of the $259 million, well before the question goes before voters.

Doing so means avoiding delays, haggling and a lack of decisiveness that has colored past capital projects, said school board member Laura Blakely. And it means some of the wish list items that got put on the back burner under Measure G will actually make it to the finish line this time. Solar panels, for example, got nixed from the previous project list.

The largest pot of money, just over $102 million, will go toward a series of top-priority improvements at all of the school sites, ranging from efficiency upgrades -- solar panels, new windows, and new heating and ventilation systems -- to extra storage space for teachers. Blakely said teachers at Stevenson's new campus, for example, have practically no space to put supplies and classroom materials, some were given just a single shelf for storage.

Where Measure G brought in big tech upgrades to classrooms and delivered new campuses for Castro, Mistral and Vargas elementary schools, it fell short of replacing windows for classrooms that still have handblown glass, said Cleave Frink, a parent and campaign manager for the measure. Classrooms get uncomfortably hot in the summer and cold in the winter, he said, and are badly in need of an update.

The list of top priorities also includes new security measures at every school except Vargas, aimed at giving school staff a better handle on the perimeter of each campus and who has access during school hours. This will include better lighting and so-called "secondary perimeter" security that proponents say are needed at playgrounds, parking lots and park spaces adjacent to school facilities.

Another $34.8 million of the bond funds are earmarked for what the district calls "short-term" growth, essentially preparing for the near-term housing spurt in Mountain View and setting aside the mammoth-sized task of preparing for future residential growth in the North Bayshore and East Whisman areas of the city.

Reports from November show that the school district needs to be ready to house an additional 889 students in the coming years, a 17% jump over today's enrollment, but what that will look like on a practical level depends on the school. At Theuerkauf Elementary there is plenty of room to grow, and an expected spike in enrollment from 332 students today to 552 won't require any additional classroom space.

The same can't be said for Landels Elementary School, which is expected to grow by a smaller amount -- from 446 students to 566 -- taking it way past full capacity in the process. The remedy, according to district officials, is a new two-story building for classrooms and an administrative office.

Then there's Huff Elementary School, which isn't expected to grow at all and yet will still receive an additional portable classroom under the board's adopted plan for Measure T. Original projections showed that the district's new attendance boundaries and crackdown on intradistrict transfers would reduce Huff's enrollment to 518, but the school's head count hasn't dropped and is expected to remain closer to 550 students.

Measure G construction assumed Huff's capacity would be 450 students, and portable classrooms were placed on the site under the assumption they would eventually no longer be needed.

The growth forecast over the next 20 years is far more daunting, with district projections showing an influx of 2,500 additional students. Blakely said Measure T, while needed, has no chance of addressing that kind of growth, which would require land acquisition in areas where the cost per acre exceeds $10 million. Measure T funds could very well be swallowed up trying to build just one school in North Bayshore.

"We're going to have to look for other sources of money," Blakely said.

Funding needed for teacher housing

Perhaps the most ambitious project is Mountain View Whisman School District's foray into the housing business. The district struck a deal in 2018 with the city of Mountain View and the developer Fortbay to bring 144 affordable units to Mountain View that would be almost entirely devoted to teacher and staff housing.

As it stands, there's no source of funding to actually deliver on the plan. But school officials say that could change if Measure T passes next month.

The idea of teacher housing has been floating around since 2016, with district officials worried with the high cost of living in the Bay Area. Surveys showed many teachers and faculty were struggling to pay the bills and weathered long commutes to get to work, contributing to stress and an annual exodus of teachers quitting the district.

Under a deal with Fortbay approved by trustees in March last year, Mountain View Whisman will contribute $56 million to help design and build a 716-unit apartment complex at 777 W. Middlefield Road. In return, the district gets full control of an entire 144-unit apartment building that it can then lease out as workforce housing.

Doing so piggybacks on a project that was already in the development pipeline and satisfies Fortbay's requirement for affordable housing, which the developer claims would have otherwise rendered the project financially infeasible. Although the apartments are almost entirely devoted to district employees, the agreement leaves open the option for the city to make a one-time payment toward construction of the 144-unit building in exchange for the "first right of refusal" on 20 of those units for city employees.

If constructed, it would be one of the largest teacher housing projects in the Bay Area.

The terms of the agreement require the district to pay $1.8 million each year for a ground lease, which will last for 55 years and is expected to be offset by below-market-rate rent charged by the district. But the district does not have a clear way to pay for the upfront construction costs absent the passage of Measure T. Of the bond funds, $60 million have been earmarked for staff housing.

Paying off debts

Some called it a rapidly changing scope of work while others called it steep cost overruns, but Mountain View Whisman's Measure G bond fund was doomed to be depleted long before all of the big-ticket projects could be completed.

Drawing outside funds into the capital budget, district officials were able to stretch the original $198 million bond into a much larger building program in excess of $260 million, which staved off contingency plans that would've skimped on new construction at Stevenson and Theuerkauf elementary schools. It was also crucial in the construction of Vargas Elementary, which opened in August and united disparate neighborhoods in the Whisman and Slater areas of the cities.

But it came at a price: The district sought what's called a certificate of participation (COP) in order to finance the new construction, borrowing $40 million against future revenue earned by leasing former school sites to private organizations. As it stands today, the district is siphoning off $2.6 million normally bound for the general fund to pay off those debts.

Under the district's spending plan, $40 million of Measure T funds will be reserved for paying off that outstanding debt. Proponents of the bond describe it as a way to free up $2.6 million in cash that can go to classrooms, but also as a potential pathway to sever lease agreements and reclaim former school sites for future use.

The old Slater and Whisman elementary school campuses owned by the district are currently leased out to Google for its day care center, the German International School of Silicon Valley and Yew Chung International School. With so much enrollment growth on the horizon, Blakely said those campuses could present a way to handle a deluge of new students, but right now the district is wholly dependent on that lease money to pay off old debts.

Measure T's campaign boasts a long list of endorsements from politicians ranging from U.S. Congresswoman Anna Eshoo to all current Mountain View City Council members. The Santa Clara County Democratic Party endorsed the measure -- along with every other local school bond and parcel tax measure on the March ballot -- as did the Los Altos-Mountain View League of Women Voters. As of Feb. 4, five of the district's PTAs have signed on with endorsements: Huff, Landels and Mistral elementaries and both Graham and Crittenden middle schools.

No organized local campaign against Measure T has materialized to date, but the regional Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association penned the argument against the measure. The organization's president, Mark Hinkle, wrote that district residents will likely be saddled with paying more than $500 million in total repayments when interest is factored into the cost of Measure T.

Hinkle criticized the district's spending plan for including projects that were supposed to be addressed with Measure G funds -- even though the district spent far more than the $198 million authorized under the bond.

"Proponents properly have the burden of explaining to voters how the last $262 million was spent and why another $259 million is needed," Hinkle wrote in the argument.

Another argument laid out by Hinkle and other critics of Measure T is that it amounts to a blank check: Despite fairly detailed plans for how to spend the money, the ballot language and the board's resolution placing Measure T on the ballot is ambiguous and could be used to finance practically any school-related construction project.

Doing so has become common practice, Blakely said in defending the decision. She said she is "confident" that the district will spend the money as it promised to do, but that it would be a mistake to bake it into the ballot language. Things change, she said, and the district would risk handicapping itself by passing an inflexible bond.

"It's just really to preserve flexibility for the 'what-ifs,' but I don't think there's any intent to deviate from these priorities," Blakely said.

We need your support now more than ever. Can we count on you?

Comments

20 people like this
Posted by Gary
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Feb 18, 2020 at 1:21 pm

Two points here: (1) the Board of Trustees refused to place any language in Measure T that would guarantee how the money to be borrowed would be spent and (2) the total pricetag for the measure was made gravely uncertain by a limitation on when the money (by selling bonds) may be borrowed: no more than $18.6 million per year. At that rate, bonds would be sold over at least 14 years with the interest rate established on each sale. As currently low interest rates rise, the total repayment (principal plus interest) increases - along with property tax bills. It could easily double or triple the total cost. The Foothill-De Anza bond measure (G) presents the same risk. Measure G would authorize the sale of $898 million in bonds at no more than $48 million per year.


6 people like this
Posted by SRB
a resident of St. Francis Acres
on Feb 18, 2020 at 1:34 pm

Can't vote on this measure but fully support it as a taxpayer.

However, still troubled by lack of clarity in the deal between City, MVWSD and the housing developer.

"Doing so piggybacks on a project that was already in the development pipeline and satisfies Fortbay's requirement for affordable housing"

School District Taxpayers will pay for all construction costs and for a 1.8M/year ground lease. What is Fortbay contributing towards its affordable housing requirement?


27 people like this
Posted by Enough
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Feb 18, 2020 at 1:55 pm

I did vote against. I got tired of all these tax increases and special assessments.


24 people like this
Posted by District employee
a resident of Monta Loma
on Feb 18, 2020 at 3:08 pm

I will NOT be voting for this Measure. I’ve seen up close the waste and mismanagement of the previous Measure. Administration and Board are not to be trusted.


6 people like this
Posted by @ District employee
a resident of North Bayshore
on Feb 18, 2020 at 3:21 pm

Can you give us some examples so we all can be wiser in the future?


23 people like this
Posted by Standing Ovation
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Feb 19, 2020 at 7:29 am

Voted No already. This board and superintendent don't deserve any more breaks or money. Time to clean house.


20 people like this
Posted by Tina
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Feb 19, 2020 at 10:08 am

Before you vote YES, please look at your property tax bill under parcel tax/special assessments. We are already paying for Mtn View Whisman school tax Measure B. Where the heck is the money being spent???? I would like some accountability first.


19 people like this
Posted by Otto_Maddox
a resident of Monta Loma
on Feb 19, 2020 at 2:51 pm

The "oversight" committee is powerless. I was a member once. You get to see how the money is spent. No input.

Then you get to report to the School Board. You either think the money was spent in accordance with the measure or it was not.

If you didn't think it was special properly it's up to the board, not the committee, on the next steps.

It's all fluff in other words. Power remains with the district.


6 people like this
Posted by Richard Michael 909-378-5401
a resident of another community
on Feb 20, 2020 at 11:39 am

Like every other school district in the state, Mountain View Whisman is cheating on the ballot to win an election.

The districts are electioneering on the ballot using public moneys (Penal Code 424(a)(2)) with a ballot statement that is a not-so-thinly disguised sales pitch.

Elections Code 13119 (AB-195, effective Jan 2018) requires a statement that is in a very specific form (to prevent front-loading the statement with goodies and prohibit a self-serving title), not be an argument or reason for passage, impartial, and not likely to cause prejudice in its favor.

The districts are cheating to win an election. What a poor example to the students. Do you endorse cheaters?

MOUNTAIN VIEW WHISMAN SCHOOL DISTRICT CLASSROOM REPAIR/OVERCROWDING MEASURE. To provide safe/modern classrooms, arts/science labs at neighborhood schools for quality education; relieve student overcrowding; replace aging roofs, inefficient heating/ventilation systems; upgrade, acquire, construct classrooms, facilities, sites/equipment; shall Mountain View Whisman School District's measure authorizing $259,000,000 in bonds at legal rates, levying $30/$100,000 assessed value ($18,600,000 annually) while bonds are outstanding, with independent oversight, audits, no funds for administrators, all funds controlled locally for Mountain View schools, be adopted?

13119 also requires disclosure of a duration. "while bonds are outstanding" is like saying nothing. The districts know exactly how long they expect to collect the tax. It's printed in the tax rate in the voter information guide. It's dishonest to prejudice voters who get past the sales pitch to avoid the disclosure requirement with meaningless tripe (lies).

This is a sales pitch to vote yes.

What's the solution to cheaters who win an election and steal millions of dollars? Think Houston Astros. It's called an election contest, which is available under the new law (AB-195). Call me for details.


12 people like this
Posted by another district employee
a resident of Rex Manor
on Feb 20, 2020 at 11:59 am

I totally agree with district employee and will be voting no on this measure. The ambiguity in the language will allow the same problems to perpetuate....poor HVAC, Sewage, electrical upgrades....ALL of these issues were supposed to be a part of the last bond, sadly 3 new schools as 1 new District Office were built instead so now more money is needed.

The spend now, ask for money later model must change. If the bond asked only to repay the debt and placed severe restrictions that it could only be spent as advertised then it would get my vote. As is, I am a no vote for this measure. No more blank checks.


11 people like this
Posted by Bad Fiscal Management
a resident of another community
on Feb 20, 2020 at 1:07 pm

This weird grab bag of public spending should be voted down. It's too much money. I wonder if it is all trumped up to make the teacher housing investment seem smaller. I could support that by itself in fact, but the other stuff is mostly garbage. The solar money isn't needed. The district can get companies to install solar for FREE and then charge a reduced rate for electric use compared to PG&E. There is state money available for HVAC and lighting efficiency upgrades. Look at what the Los Altos school district did in that regard.

The biggest expense seems to be this stuff about security at all the sites. Adding a 2nd set of outdoor rest rooms at the public parks along side the schools is a waste of money. Same thing with adding brighter lights outdoors at night. This lighting is going to impact the neighbors of the schools. And talking about perimeter hardening is ridiculous. They must mean adding fences and gates, but hey is that really so very expensive? Is it even necessary? Look at the fences on the new site at Castro. Those fences are 4 feet tall. Someone could jump them. What are they going to do replace with 6 foot tall fences, and what barbed wire? Such extreme fences are going to make the schools look like prisons. Is that good for the kids?

Basically this is just TOO MUCH money to spend on junk like this when they admit they will be back for more to handle growth if that occurs.


5 people like this
Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Feb 22, 2020 at 10:18 am

I will be voting NO on T / but Yes on the State School Bond (Proposition 13) and Yes on the Community College Measure G - special tax ($48 per year per parcel). It is clear - Blakely did not want to 'commit anything' to legally binding Measure T ballot wording. No Old Roof replacement (majority of Bd in past did not fund this Priority One category) or Old HVAC (Heating andAit Conditioning). Blakeley's bad. This would have beenMUCH LESS than 50% of the bond spending. It would have been very effectively monitored by an honest Bond Oversight committee [a legal requirement].
This Administration/Board continues to OVERRUN their current project budgets. Look at the last three - all go over their 10% construction Contingencies. Often 'district asks' increase the costs. CAN'T LIVE WITHIN BUDGETS? The new Business Officer has no construction experience, and the Superintendent is doing a much worse job (IMO) keeping costs contained. Spending 50% over the Contingency / makes it clear that a Rest and Reconsider (6 months or a year) would be good.
Landels Does Not Need More Classrooms! Kids (a hundred?) need to be moved into the New Classrooms unoccupied by regular classes at both Castro and Mistral. Rudolph doe not, as he said, want to face "the hornet's nest" of property owners/parents in West Shoreline.

There are projects that need to be done. Blakeley does not have the guts to lead the effort to legally ensure they are done AS A LEGAL PRIORITY (and then the 50% left can be used ...)


3 people like this
Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Feb 22, 2020 at 10:31 am

Misrepresentation of Facts - MVWSD/Voice's pie chart (looks good enough to eat though). Anything anything all can be changed (all proportions or future exclusions). With a simple Majority Vote of future Board. That is the law. That is the Bond Measure ballot text wording.

Look who is funding Measure T campaign. Those architects are not interested in repairing the dozens of old roofs/ replacing old HVAC. Any more than they were in their last Bond Measure work! They want to BUILD NEW. It's more fun and profitable. Tear down old Landels classrooms (single story) and BUILD NEW (with elevators and all).

I do not think this spending is Critical Now. TAX RATE INCREASE? Before the old bonds are paid off (in just a few years)? Wait till November - or two years! Have a (50%) legally tied down spending language plan. Slow Down - you move Too Fast. (IMO)


6 people like this
Posted by Right On
a resident of another community
on Feb 23, 2020 at 5:43 pm

Steve Nelson is right about the no on T. This district doesn't have much of a clue. They are skipping the planning phase and just asking for a lot of funding they do not need. Their arguments are poor. They want a blank check to issue bonds going forward any time they think of something to spend on. Better to have a clear plan and more data as to what future growth will look like. Their statement that this is NOT for long term growth shows the problem precisely. They want to fritter away on extras that are not needed, and then they will not have resources to deal with future growth which may or may not occur.

Some of their language claims that there are 7000 new housing units which may be true. But between 2013 and 2018 enrollment only grew by 100 in total. K-5 enrollment actually declined over that time period. They have already built capacity for 9 elementary schools at 450 each, which means they still have plenty of room. The new housing units aren't producing new students. That's the situation plain and simple. It may well be because the birth rate is down and there are fewer kids in the population. MVWSD wants the sneak this spending by before it is clear that they DO NOT have a growth problem to speak of. Better to wait.


4 people like this
Posted by MV Resident
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Feb 23, 2020 at 6:15 pm

@RightOn: Do your homework. The board approved the improvement project list already, with cost estimates for each line item. The teacher housing piece isn’t about student enrollment, it’s about building more housing in Mountain View so more teachers can live here (as opposed to buying up existing homes, which others have proposed, which does nothing to alleviate the bigger problem in Mountain View). Refinancing the COP for Slater, etc frees up lease money (and sites) for other possible uses.

What costs more money? Heating schools with bad windows. Paying for electricity instead of generating it yourself. Paying teachers more to live in more expensive housing. Emergency support when the sewer lines break or the roofs start leaking. Lawsuits when a special needs child accidentally wanders off campus because there’s no fence to stop them and maybe someone was distracted... This stuff comes back to the taxpayers one way or another. I like being fiscally prudent... so doing this stuff now makes a lot of sense, especially in the low-rate environment that Trump seems intent on continuing for a while.... so I’m voting yes.


3 people like this
Posted by Right On
a resident of another community
on Feb 23, 2020 at 7:59 pm

Single paned windows aren't that bad. This is an absurdity to put so much emphasis on that. At no cost to the district, they could have had solar panels put on each school years ago, and locked in a much lower electricity cost for that entire time. But they didn't. Now they pretend they need bond money to do solar. It's not true. Their plans are very non committal, and they have no schedule as to when they will do what. They reserve the right to change their minds. DON'T GIVE THE MONEY TO PLAY AROUND WITH!


1 person likes this
Posted by Right On
a resident of another community
on Feb 23, 2020 at 8:22 pm

Consider that most students live in homes with single paned windows. In order for a school to be most effective in saving energy, the school should install a central HVAC energy management system. Right now classrooms are probably being heated outside of the hours they are occupied. This is much more important than changing out all the windows. We do live in a temperate climate. The windows aren't losing energy during most of the season.


2 people like this
Posted by Gary
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Feb 23, 2020 at 8:51 pm

While the proponents have never challenged the interpretation that Measure T and Measure G (Foothill-De Anza bond) limit how quickly bonds may be sold, another way to read the language of the measures is simply that the districts expect to collect the amount stated each year to repay the bonds with interest (if sold at the current low rate). So, as to Measure T, $259 million borrowed would be repaid over 3 decades at $18.6 million per year. But if the interest rate rises before the money is borrowed (by selling bonds), the total pricetag rises and may soar. As to a spending plan, any plan not in the measure can simply be changed. The bond measures (and the college district's parcel tax) are for SLUSH FUNDS.


7 people like this
Posted by Won’t vote for Measure T
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Feb 24, 2020 at 10:27 am

As long as Ayinde and Carmen are there and increasing their own salaries- no way. Need new district leadership and school board.


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